Tattoos are increasingly common these days. Around 40% of Americans now have one or more tattoos. Tattoos are also becoming less controversial in the workplace in many industries. You may see several co-workers, your boss, or executive management sporting visible tattoos, even in a traditional office environment. The popularity of tattoos may convince you that they aren’t all that risky to get. This popularity comes with side effects like any other medical procedure involving needles and skin, which is called skin infection.
But getting a tattoo does carry some risk: Inserting an ink-covered needle into your skin has the potential to introduce foreign matter or infections into your body. After receiving a tattoo from a licensed, reputable artist, it’s normal to experience redness, pain, and swelling.
After a couple days, and the healing process begins, the skin around the tattoo might even itch. However, the trick is recognizing anything beyond those more ‘normal’ experiences.
What Causes Tattoo Infection?
Tattoos can become effective for various reasons, including a lack of training, self-care, or hygiene issues. Individuals who have the most significant risk of forming a tattoo infection include:
-Clients who failed to follow the aftercare instructions provided by the tattoo artist in providing essential skincare during the healing process.
-Tattoo artistry is performed by a poorly trained or untrained artist.
-Tattooing a tattoo on an unclean area of the body.
-The lack of sterilized clean equipment, like contaminated needles, or failing to maintain basic hygiene or wear gloves while tattooing.
-Failing to give sufficient fresh air to the new tattoo and surrounding area can be ideal for infections.
-Wearing clothing that irritates the tattoo can prolong or stop the healing process caused by rubbing, brushing, or scraping the new tattoo area.
-The tattoo area has been bruised and pricked. This situation can allow airborne bacteria to enter the damaged skin area while applying artistry.
-Using infected creams and moisturizers might soothe the skin but expose the area to infections.
-Swimming before the wound has a chance to fully close or heal. The water could harbor dangerous bacteria that can spread between different individuals. Bacteria often associated with tattoo infections are staphylococcus and streptococcus.
Carefully Consider The Body Part You Want To Be Inked.
Any part of the body is at potential risk for infection. Places liable to more moisture and bacteria (under the arms, the lip, and feet ) get infected and irritated more easily. The lower extremities take longer to heal, making them more prone to infections. You would want to be extra careful with your fingers and hands. We touch so many different (dirty) surfaces every day that these tattoos have a major risk, especially since we need to control using our hands while the tattoo heals.
If there are any signs of skin problems (like a rash, redness, broken or irritated skin), you should wait until the skin is completely healed and normal. If you are dealing with an unrelated skin condition using medications like a steroid cream, these could increase the risk of infection.
Find a reputable tattoo parlor and artist.
MAKE SURE YOU GET TATTOOED BY A PROFESSIONAL LICENSED ARTIST. We’d like to assume that everybody is following the ‘golden rule’ and only receiving tattoos from certified professionals. However, if you aren’t, that could be a very likely, if not definitely is, the cause of tattoo infection. Professional tattoo artists will, and should, always follow the universal precautions because of their inherent contact with blood and knowledge of bloodborne pathogens.
Consequently, they will use sterile, single-use needles to ensure the safety of their customers. All of that cannot be said for unlicensed professionals or at-home kits. Tattoo infections aren’t the end of the world. If recognized and treated promptly, they can be taken care of with little to no lasting effects.
The keys to ensuring not only your safety but the beautiful longevity of your newest artwork are:
-Knowing the signs of tattoo infection
-Learning how best to care for your tattoo
-Not maintaining a lax mentality that it will ‘clear up on its own
While most problems or infections happen aftercare, some start right at the tattoo parlor. Do research beforehand to check the safety record of the artist and ask them about their equipment sterilization practices.
Tattoo artists should follow the standards for anyone who could be in contact with blood or bodily fluids. An artist who’s properly trained and using suitable safety measures will significantly minimize any chance of infection. Properly trained tattoo artists will always use sterile, single-use needles and adequately sterilize and clean any materials reused. However, most artists these days use entirely single-use disposable items.
Remember, your artist is also responsible for ensuring the skin is prepped correctly before starting the tattoo. You can develop an irritation or infection if the skin isn’t adequately cleaned before getting a tattoo.
Stay Diligent During The Healing Process.
Even if your artist does the full procedure correctly, what happens after you leave the shop is the key to healthy healing. A tattoo that is correctly done by a trained artist is pretty flexible. It will heal just ok if just left alone and kept clean. It’s outside bacteria that can cause problems.
Although every artist has preferences for aftercare, most underline how crucial it is to keep the tattooed skin clean and moisturized, and clean. This means avoiding some everyday behaviors that would otherwise be harmless. The most crucial thing is for a client to never touch the tattooed area without first washing their hands before applying any ointment. It’s best not to soak your new tattoo, use body scrub on it, or let your pet lick or scratch it.
Know The Signs Of Infection.
The most usual symptoms associated with infected tattoos are:
Swelling – Every tattoo is swelling. If infected, the area will appear distorted. Without proper treatment, the swelling can easily spread to the surrounding tissue.
Fever – Without medical attention, the infection can quickly produce mild to severe fever. Anyone with a body temperature over 100° should seek immediate medical attention. Be aware that, in my experience, sometimes high fever can occur after covering large portions of skin in one sitting.
Inflammation – Red or pink inflammation that lasts more than 48-72 hrs at the affected tattoo site often indicates severe inflammation of the area. This also goes if the skin temperature on or around the tattoo is hotter than other areas of the body. Typically, the inflammation should not last longer than two maybe three days. Inflammation lasting longer than this is usually an indicator of contamination of the skin.
Pain – Every new tattoo will create discomfort and tenderness in the tattoo area and surrounding tissue. However, suppose the pain does not go away or intensify in the days after getting the tattoo. In this case, it could be a sign of the initial stages of an infection.
Fluid and Pus Discharge – Small amounts of clear liquid combined with small spots of blood are usual in the first couple of days. However, if the affected area begins producing greenish-yellowish pus is highly indicative of a severe infection that requires medical attention.
Foul Odor – Infections are caused by harmful bacteria that expel foul smells.
Swollen Lymph Nodes – If nodes around the tattooed area begin to swell, medical attention is necessary because it is usually a sign of the staph infection, which means the body’s immune system is actively fighting a severe condition that could easily spread through the bloodstream, causing sepsis (blood infection).
Abscesses – An abscess or blister can quickly form at the tattooed site indicating an active infection. In addition to discomfort and pain, the blister can easily burst or become irritated before the area has had time to completely heal.
Discolored Streaks – Red or purple streaks emanating from the original tattoo can indicate that medical attention is needed because the infection is likely to lead to blood poisoning (sepsis), a life-threatening condition.
It’s important to get a proper diagnosis.
Even if your other tattoos have healed perfectly, it’s important to consult a dermatologist if you have signs of an infection. Like allergic reactions to tattoo ink, other conditions may present similarly, with redness, itching, and swelling. As treatment for both conditions is different, it is best to figure out the correct diagnosis ASAP.
Remember, those tattoo infections are usually deeper in the skin as the needle pierces 1.5 to 2 mm into the skin, so an O.T.C. antibiotic ointment isn’t going to cure it. In some serious cases, you may receive an oral antibiotic instead.
How Do You Treat Tattoo Infection?
Small red bumps (folliculitis) appear on and around the tattoo that cannot be healed by typical antibiotic treatments.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a specific infection that attacks the tattoo and consumes the skin layers between the top of the skin and the muscle.
The apparent signs of a tattoo that became infected will usually remain for many months after the infection has been treated with antibiotics. This is due to the buildup of the bacterium in and around the affected site. The doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics, including antibiotic pills, topical creams, or liquids like amoxicillin.
Now let’s say you did everything you were supposed to, but luck wasn’t on your side, and you got a tattoo infection. Don’t be alarmed; it’s not the end of the world. To treat a tattoo infection, find a dermatologist. Upon their examination, they will be able to prescribe precisely what topical ointments, oral antibiotics, or anything else you might need. However, the most important thing is recognizing it as early as possible and acting as quickly as possible. If you assume that your tattoo might be infected, don’t wait; go to a doctor if you think it’s getting worse.
The severity of infection can vary based on several factors—so it is important not to guess what it might be but go to a professional and find out precisely what it is.
Effect of Ink
Tattoo ink contains metals and other chemical substances, which provide color. Reactions to tattoo ink can vary, depending on the pigment it contains. This is something that is extremely rare these days but still it’s good to know.
Potential reactions may lead to:
Granuloma, or raised red bumps around the tattoo
Lichenoid reactions, or itchy skin patches as in lichen planus
Pseudo lymphomatous reactions involving purple or red nodules and plaques
How To Prevent Tattoo Infection
While most professional tattoo artists offer a lot of information for the aftercare of your ink, it’s essential to imagine the possibilities and be wary of your actions during the healing process.
Infected Tattoo Heals On Its Own?
While tattoos and the after-effects to your skin can often heal on their own—infections do not. Tattoo infections will grow in size, become more noticeable, detrimentally affecting your tattoo. If we let our infected tattoo heal on its own, it could open the door for bacteria to enter your bloodstream, causing some hazardous, even life-threatening, conditions. Therefore, don’t change if luck is usually on your side. If there’s a sign, take action.
Be Prepared To Have Your Tattoo Fixed.
The colors fade as the pigment is not retained by the skin. The longer the infection takes to recognize, the more touch-ups might be necessary to get the tattoo back to its former glory. Infection likely won’t completely ruin your tattoo, but it’s essential to make sure to wait a couple months to fully heal before you repair the damage done.
If an infection happens, it’s not the end of the world. Once it’s all cleared up, the tattoo can be touched up if you want to. The crucial thing is to wait until the tattooed skin has fully recovered. This means that tattoo pigment is not properly retained in the skin. It’s ok to get a touch-up, but I recommend waiting for at least two months after the infection has cleared to be sure that the skin is fully healed.